Posts Tagged Insolventie

Bank Leumi. No calling for the EU’s Insolvency Regulation in intra-UK scenarios.

Thank you Ben Zielinski for flagging Bank Leumi (UK) Plc v Screw Conveyor Ltd [2017] CSOH 129. I believe Ben is right in writing that this is the first formal acknowledgement that Scottish judicial authorities have no insolvency business in respect of an English registered company, and the same applies to English courts and Scottish companies,  in spite of the EU’s Insolvency Regulation.

Even if a company carries out its main activities in Scotland, internal UK jurisdictional rules will assign insolvency jurisdiction to the English judicial authorities. That is a result of, as Lord Doherty writes, the Insolvency Regulations designating the ‘Member State the courts of which may open insolvency proceedings’ however ‘territorial jurisdiction within that Member State is established by the Member State’s national law’ (at 9).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.

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COMI for groups of companies. The Brussels commercial court in Parfip.

Thank you to both Patrick Wauthelet and Arie van Hoe for forwarding a copy of the judgment of the Brussels commercial court in Parfip. Please pop me an e-mail should you like a copy. The judgment is textbook application of CJEU precedent, including of course Eurofood and Interedil. Fully respecting the presumption of individual COMI in the case of a group of companies, the judgment refers to ia German and French precedent in rebuking the presumption. Not only were the companies effectively run from Brussels, notwithstanding non-Belgian seat for some of them; to third parties it was also clear that this was the case.

The judgment also confirms a narrow interpretation of the exception for ‘credit institutions’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Not the Muppet show. FREP, FREP, FREP and Frogmore. Determination of COMI for groups and SPVs. The High Court pushes head office approach.

In [2017] EWHC 25 (Ch) the Frogmore Group,  there are three relevant companies: FREP (Knowle) Limited. FREP (Ellesmere Port) Limited and FREP (Belle Vale) Limited all of which were incorporated in and have their registered office in Jersey. The Companies form part of Frogmore group (of which the ultimate parent is Frogmore Property Company Limited). The Frogmore group specialises in real estate investment and management in the UK and each of the Companies owns a shopping centre located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, Belle Vale in Liverpool and Knowle in Bristol respectively. Each of these shopping centres is managed by Frogmore Real Estate Investment Managers Limited (“FREPIM”), a company formed in England and Wales with its registered office and base for operations at London.

The Nationwide seeking enforcement of security, the group sought a declaration that COMI was at Jersey.

Marshall DJ held with reference to the familiar precedents of Eurofood and Interedil, both featuring heavily in my earlier postings on COMI, but also to Northsea Base Investments in which Birss J paid particular attention to the largest shareholders. Of note is that this reference to the largest shareholders does not entail (and indeed is not so constructed in either Northsea Base or Frogmore) that these get the pick of what COMI might entail. Rather, that the dealings with and experience of one place as being the place where the company’s interest are being managed from, is of particular interest for the Interedil emphasis on ascertainability by third parties. Marshall DJ also rekindles the discussion on whether Interedil’s emphasis is on identifying the ‘Head office’ of the companies: a conclusion which one needs to treat with caution for even in Interedil’s tacit support for the head office approach, the emphasis continues to lie with the combination of factors, all leading to transparency and publicity.

The High Court in the end held with reference to the following: (at 39; all wording as  the judgment but with one or two words left out)

(1) Day- to-day conduct of the business and activities of the Companies has been in the hands of an agent appointed in England, namely FREPIM. Under the Advisory Agreement (which was itself governed by English law and had an English exclusive jurisdiction clause) FREPIM was to take on full responsibility for providing a very large range of services to the Companies, including day-to-day management of the Shopping Centres and dealing with their financing, accounting, marketing and formulation of their business strategy. FREPIM  itself acknowledged that it worked on investment strategy and business plans for the Companies; instructed lawyers, surveyors and consultants for them; negotiated the purchase and sale of properties on their behalf; dealt with their borrowing requirements; and attended to the provision of accounting systems and the preparation of management and annual accounts. These actions were not just limited commercial activities but included the types of function that one would expect a head office to discharge.

(2) Day-to-day dealings with third parties are carried out from the offices of FREPIM at London. This is confirmed by the evidence of the activity of FREPIM described above but it is also supported by, for example, the Companies’ VAT returns where their business address is stated to be those offices. In their day-to-day dealings with third parties regarding expenditure these offices are given as the address for invoices.

(3) If one has regard to the point of view of the largest creditor, Nationwide, the Facility Agreement and the Nationwide Debentures are governed by English law and have an English jurisdiction clause. Under the Facility Agreement the Shareholder is the service agent for the Companies. In the case of the Nationwide Debentures, they have express reference to the power to appoint administrators under the 1986 Act. FREPIM took over the day-to-day contact with Nationwide as well as providing Nationwide with various pieces of information (such as quarterly compliance packs and accounts for borrowers) and did so from London. FREPIM also accepted that the management of the relationship between the Companies and Nationwide had been carried out by [the group treasurer] and the Chairman of the Frogmore group, who was also based in London.

(4) I also note that under the terms of the debentures securing the advances made by the Shareholder that the governing law is English, there is an English exclusive jurisdiction clause, that FREPIM is appointed the service agent of the Companies and there is express provision for the appointment of administrators under the 1986 Act.

The case is a good reminder that even intricate SPV structures should not detract from COMI finding on well-established principles. And that COMI determination always depends on a basket of criteria.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2., Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Just prove it! CJEU on lex causae and detrimental acts (pauliana) in Nike.

Postscript for an example of where Article 4(2)m, lex fori concursus for rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors, applies without correction, see C-594/14 Kornhaas.

In my posting on Lutz I flagged the increasing relevance of Article 13 of the Insolvency Regulation. This Article neutralises the lex concursus in favour of the lex causae governing the act between a person (often a company) benefiting from an act detrimental to all the creditors, and the insolvent company. Classic example is a payment made by the insolvent company to one particular creditor. Evidently this is detrimental to the other creditors, who are confronted with reduced means against which they can exercise their rights. Article 13 reads

Detrimental acts. Article 4(2)(m) shall not apply where the person who benefited from an act detrimental to all the creditors provides proof that: – the said act is subject to the law of a Member State other than that of the State of the opening of proceedings, and – that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.

In the case at issue, C-310/14, Nike (incorporated in The Netherlands) had a franchise agreement with Sportland Oy, a Finnish company. This agreement is governed by Dutch law (through choice of law). Sportland paid for a number of Nike deliveries. Payments went ahead a few months before and after the opening of the insolvency proceedings. Sportland’s liquidator attempts to have the payments annulled, and to have Nike reimburse.

Under Finnish law, para 10 of the Law on recovery of assets provides that the payment of a debt within three months of the prescribed date may be challenged if it is paid with an unusual means of payment, is paid prematurely, or in an amount which, in view of the amount of the debtor’s estate, may be regarded as significant. Under Netherlands law, according to Article 47 of the Law on insolvency (Faillissementswet), the payment of an outstanding debt may be challenged only if it is proven that when the recipient received the payment he was aware that the application for insolvency proceedings had already been lodged or that the payment was agreed between the creditor and the debtor in order to give priority to that creditor to the detriment of the other creditors.

Nike first of all argued, unsuccessfully in the Finnish courts, that the payment was not ‘unusual’. The Finnish courts essentially held that under relevant Finnish law, the payment was unusual among others because the amount paid was quite high in relation to the overall assets of the company. Nike argues in subsidiary order that Dutch law, the lex causae of the franchise agreement, should be applied. Attention then focussed (and the CJEU held on) the burden of proof under Article 13, as well as the exact meaning of ‘that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.

Firstly, the Finnish version of the Regulation seemingly does not include wording identical or similar to ‘in the relevant case‘ (Article 13 in fine). Insisting on a restrictive interpretation of Article 13, which it had also held in Lutz, the CJEU held that all the circumstances of the cases need to be taken into account. The person profiting from the action cannot solely rely ‘in a purely abstract manner, on the unchallengeable character of the act at issue on the basis of a provision of the lex causae‘ (at 21).

Related to this issue the referring court had actually quoted the Virgos Schmit report, which reads in relevant part (at 137) ‘By “any means” it is understood that the act must not be capable of being challenged using either rules on insolvency or general rules of the national law applicable to the act’. This interpretation evidently reduces the comfort zone for the party who benefitted from the act. It widens the search area, so to speak. It was suggested, for instance, that Dutch law in general includes a prohibition of abuse of rights, which is wider than the limited circumstances of the Faillissementswet, referred to above.

The CJEU surprisingly does not quote the report however it does come to a similar conclusion: at 36: the expression ‘does not allow any means of challenging that act …’ applies, in addition to the insolvency rules of the lex causae, to the general provisions and principles of that law, taken as a whole.’

Attention then shifted to the burden of proof: which party is required to plead that the circumstances for application of a provision of the lex causae leading to voidness, voidability or unenforceability of the act, do not exist? The CJEU held on the basis of Article 13’s wording and overall objectives that it is for the defendant in an action relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of an act to provide proof, on the basis of the lex causae, that the act cannot be challenged. Tthe defendant has to prove both the facts from which the conclusion can be drawn that the act is unchallengeable and the absence of any evidence that would militate against that conclusion (at 25).

However, (at 27) ‘although Article 13 of the regulation expressly governs where the burden of proof lies, it does not contain any provisions on more specific procedural aspects. For instance, that article does not set out, inter alia, the ways in which evidence is to be elicited, what evidence is to be admissible before the appropriate national court, or the principles governing that court’s assessment of the probative value of the evidence adduced before it.

‘(T)he issue of determining the criteria for ascertaining whether the applicant has in fact proven that the act can be challenged falls within the procedural autonomy of the relevant Member State, regard being had to the principles of effectiveness and equivalence.’ (at 44)

The Court therefore once again bumps into the limits of autonomous interpretation. How ad hoc, concrete (as opposed to ‘in the abstract’: see the CJEU’s words, above) the defendant has to be in providing proof (and foreign expert testimony with it), may differ greatly in the various Member States. Watch this space for more judicial review of Article 13.

Geert.

Postscript 7 December 2015: Bob Wessels has annotated the case here.

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Kaupthing: the High Court interprets (and rejects) Lugano insolvency exception viz the Icelandic Banking crisis.

Thank you Eiríkur Thorláksson (whose expert report fed substantially into the Court’s findings) for flagging and for additional insight: In Tchenguiz v Kaupthing, the High Court had to review the insolvency exception to the Lugano Convention, combined with Directive 2001/24 on the reorganisation and winding-up of credit institutions. Directive 2001/24 applies to UK /Iceland relations following the EFTA Agreement. See my earlier post on Sabena, for Lugano context. Mr Tchenguiz is a London-based property developer. He claims against Kaupthing; Johannes Johannsson, a member of Kaupthing’s winding-up committee; accountants Grant Thornton; and two of its partners.

While Directive 2001/24 evidently is lex specialis vis-a-vis the Insolvency Regulation, much of the ECJ’s case-law under the Regulation is of relevance to the Directive, too. That is because, as Carr J notes, much of the substantial content of the Regulation has been carried over into the Directive. Carr J does emphasise (at 76) that the dovetailing between the Lugano Convention /the Judgments Regulation, and the Insolvency Regulation, carried over into the 2001 Directive does not extend to matters of choice of law. [A bit of explanation: insolvency was excluded from the Judgments Regulation (and from the Convention before it) because it was envisaged to be included in what eventually became the Insolvency Regulation. Consequently the Judgments Regulation and the Insolvency Regulation clearly dovetail when it comes to their respective scope of application]. That is because neither Lugano nor the Judgments Regulation consider choice of law: they are limited to jurisdiction.

On the substance of jurisdiction, the High Court found, applying relevant precedent (German Graphics, Gourdain, etc.), that the claims against both Kaupthing and Mr Johansson are within the Lugano Convention and not excluded by Article 1(2)(b) of that Convention. That meant that Icelandic law became applicable law by virtue of Directive 2001/24, and under Icelandic law proceedings against credit institutions being wound up come not be brought before the courts in ordinary (rather, a specific procedure before the winding-up committee of the bank applies). No jurisdiction in the UK therefore for the claim aganst the bank. The claim against Mr Johansson can go ahead.

[For the purpose of this blog, the jurisdictional issues are of most relevance. For Kaupthing it was even more important that the Bankruptcy Act in Iceland was found to have extra-territorial effect. The Act on Financial Undertakings implemented the winding-up directive and the Icelandic legislator intented it to have extra-territorial effect].

A complex set of arguments was raised and the judgment consequentially is not an easy or quick read. However the above should be the gist of it. I would suggest the findings are especially crucial with respect to the relation between Lugano /Brussels I, Directive 2001/24, and the Insolvency Regulation.

Geert.

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Lex causae, securitisation and insulating agreements from the lex concursus. The ECJ in Lutz.

Postscript for an example of where Article 4(2)m, lex fori concursus for rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors, applies without correction, see C-594/14 Kornhaas.

This post has been some time in the making, notwithstanding my promise to have it up soon. Let’s just say I got distracted. The wide interest in Lutz, Case C-557/13, illustrates the increasing relevance of the actio pauliana in protecting creditors from their debtor’s insolvency. The core underlying issue for Lutz is that, in the absence of considerable capital in companies (arguably a direct result indeed of the regulatory competition in Member States’ corporate law following the ECJ’s case-law on freedom of establishment), civil law mechanisms have become more relevant than classic recourse to companies’ liability. If one relies on more classic modes of securitisation, one may want to have more predictability in what law will apply to those securitised agreements. That is where the Insolvency Regulation comes in, in providing for a mechanism which allows parties to indeed give parties the freedom to choose applicable law for the relevant agreements. Article 4(2)m of the Insolvency Regulation (in the new Regulation this is Article 7(m) – unchanged) makes the lex concursus applicable in principle: lex concursus applies to ‘(m) the rules relating to the voidness, voidability or unenforceability of legal acts detrimental to all the creditors.’ However Article 13 (16 new – unchanged) insulates a set of agreements from the pauliana: ‘Article 4(2)(m) shall not apply where the person who benefited from an act detrimental to all the creditors provides proof that: – the said act is subject to the law of a Member State other than that of the State of the opening of proceedings, and – that law does not allow any means of challenging that act in the relevant case.’  The crucial consideration in Lutz was whether the absence of means of challenge in the lex causae, relates to substantive law only, or also to procedural law. Randi summarise the time-line and relevant distinction in German and Austrian law as follows:

  • “17 Mar 2008-Austrian court issues an enforceable payment order in favour of Mr Lutz against the debtor company
  • 18 April 2008-debtor files application for German insolvency proceedings
  • 20 May 2008-attachment of three Austrian bank accounts of the company
  • 4 August 2008-German insolvency proceedings opened (as main proceedings) in respect of the company
  • 17 Mar 2009-Austrian bank pays monies to Mr Lutz

Under German law, any enforcement of security over the debtor’s assets during the month preceding the lodging of the application to open proceedings is legally invalid once proceedings are opened. Under Austrian law, an action to set aside a transaction must be brought within one year after the opening of proceedings, failing which it becomes time-barred. By contrast, the limitation period under German law is three years. Although the attachment order was granted before the application to open main proceedings was filed, the actual attachment itself took place after that filing and the subsequent payment of monies by the bank took place after main proceedings were opened in Germany. Mr Lutz argued that art 13 applied and that the payment could no longer be challenged by the German liquidator under Austrian law as the one-year limitation period had expired.” (Randi also have good review of the questions in Lutz relating to rights in rem and Article 5, triggered in the case at issue by the attachments of bank accounts). Essentially, the Court expresses sympathy for the cover of procedural limits to fighting detrimental acts to be determined by the lex causae. (It dismissed any relevance of Article 12(1)d of Rome I Regulation, which provides that prescription and limitation of actions are governed by ‘the law applicable to a contract’: for the Insolvency Regulation is most definitely lex specialis). However leaving the matter up to the lex causae would cause differentiated application of the Insolvency Regulation across the Member States. Consequently the ECJ opts for autonomous interpretation, ruling (at 49) that Article 13 of Regulation No 1346/2000 must be interpreted as meaning that the defence which it establishes also applies to limitation periods or other time-bars relating to actions to set aside transactions under the lex causae.’ The ECJ’s judgment essentially confirms the EFTA Court’s views on the similar proviso in Directive 2001/24 on the winding-up of credit institutions (Lbi hf v Merrill Lynch). A pity the ECJ did not refer to that finding. Geert.

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Nortel. CJEU confirms Nickel & Goeldner, and extends Seagon to secondary proceedings.

Update 16 June 2017. See [2017] EWHC 1429 for not just cost orders in the UK COMI proceeding but also the strategy in trying to discourage opening of secondary proceedings.

I need to give a bit of a factual background before I can get to the implications of the ECJ’s (or CJEU, I still haven’t decided) finding in C-469/13 Nortel.

Nortel Networks SA is established in Yvelines (France). The Nortel group was a provider of technical solutions for telecommunications networks. Nortel Networks Limited (‘NNL’), established in Mississauga (Canada), held the majority of the Nortel group’s worldwide subsidiaries, including NNSA.  In 2008 insolvency proceedings were initiated simultaneously in Canada, the US and the EU. In January 2009, the High Court opened main insolvency proceedings under English law in respect of all the companies in the Nortel group established in the EU, including NNSA, pursuant to Article 3(1) of the Insolvency Regulation.

Following a joint application lodged by NNSA and the joint administrators, by judgment of May 2009 the court at Versailles opened secondary proceedings in respect of NNSA. In July 2009, industrial action at NNSA was brought to an end by a memorandum of agreement settling the action. It provided for the making of a severance payment, of which one part was payable immediately and another part, known as the ‘deferred severance payment’, was to be paid, once operations had ceased, out of the available funds arising from the sale of assets. That memorandum was approved by the court at Versailles. NNSA’s positive balance was subsequently however caught up in the global settlement for Nortel, including transfers of funds to escrow accounts in the US, to be distributed following global settlement, and new debt following the continuation of Nortel’s activities as well as costs related to the global winding-up of the company. The deferred severance payment therefore could no longer be paid.

The works council of NNSA and former NNSA employees brought an action before the court at Versailles seeking, first, a declaration that the secondary proceedings give them an exclusive and direct right over the share of the overall proceeds from the sale of the Nortel group’s assets that falls to NNSA and, second, an order requiring the liquidator to make immediate disbursement, in particular, of the deferred severance payment, to the extent of the funds available to NNSA. the French liquidator then summoned the joint administrators as third parties before the referring court. However, these then suggested the court at Versailles decline international jurisdiction, in favour of the High Court at London, and in the alternative, to decline jurisdiction to rule on the assets and rights which were not situated in France for the purposes of Article 2(g) of the Insolvency Regulation when the judgment opening the secondary proceedings was delivered. That Article reads

(g) “the Member State in which assets are situated” shall mean, in the case of: – tangible property, the Member State within the territory of which the property is situated, – property and rights ownership of or entitlement to which must be entered in a public register, the Member State under the authority of which the register is kept, – claims, the Member State within the territory of which the third party required to meet them has the centre of his main interests, as determined in Article 3(1);

There are essentially two parts to the referring court’s questions: (i) the allocation of international jurisdiction between the court hearing the main proceedings and the court hearing the secondary proceedings; and (ii) identification of the law applicable to determine the debtor’s assets that fall within the scope of the effects of the secondary proceedings.

On the (i) first question, the Court first reviewed whether the Insolvency Regulation applied at all – an issue seemingly which did not feature in the national proceedings nor in the written procedure before the CJEU, however which came up at the hearing. The issue being that what the Works Council was after was that an agreement to pay a debt be honoured: one that looks just like a fairly standard agreement were it not to arise out of insolvency. Per Nickel and Goeldner the Court reviewed whether the right or the obligation which respects the basis of the action finds its source in the common rules of civil and commercial law or in the derogating rules specific to insolvency proceedings. Here, the basis of the action, as was pointed out by Mengozzi AG, was relevant French insolvency law (for the determination of the order of creditors’ rights) and the Insolvency Regulation (for the determination of the hierarchy between main and secondary insolvency proceedings). The Insolvency Regulation therefore applies. The AG’s review in fact was clearer than the Court’s summary. More generally, the ECJ does seem to go out of its way to re-emphasise the Nickel and Goeldner formula, even if the separation of the Brussels I and the Insolvency Regulation was not particularly controversial in the case at issue.

Next, the Court essentially extended its Seagon/Deko Marty case-law to secondary proceedings. In Seagon, the Court held that Article 3(1) must be interpreted as meaning that it also confers international jurisdiction on the courts of the Member State within the territory of which insolvency proceedings were opened to hear an action which derives directly from the initial insolvency proceedings and which is ‘closely connected’ with them, within the meaning of recital 6 in the preamble to the Regulation. In Nortel the Court holds that Article 3(2) of that regulation must be interpreted analogously. Here, the related action seeks a declaration that specified assets fall within secondary insolvency proceedings. It is designed specifically to protect the local interests which justify the very establishment of jurisdiction for the secondary proceedings.

However, such action quite obviously has a direct effect on the interests administered in the main insolvency proceedings. The jurisdiction for the court of the secondary proceedings therefore cannot be exclusive. It is jurisdiction concurrently with the Member State of COMI. This is an altogether sec appreciation of the Court which, as Bob Wessels notes, in reality will create serious co-ordination headaches (one for which I do not think even the provisions for co-ordination in the new insolvency Regulation provide sufficient answer).

Finally, in reply to question (ii), the ECJ is fairly brief: Article 2(g) ought to suffice to give the referring court the guidance it seeks. Granted, the ECJ says, it will not be easy. But it ought to suffice. The one extra guidance the CJEU gives is that that provision is also applicable if the property, right or claim in question must be regarded as situated in a third State (such as here: in the escrow accounts).

All in all, quite an important judgment, indeed. Unlike Nortel’s sad demise, this judgment has quite a life ahead of it.

Geert.

 

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